Hearing on the
Hominy Falls Mine Disaster
Fatal Accident Reports, 1968, Nicholas County, Gauley Coal and Coke Company, Saxsewell No. 8.
A hearing on the accident that occurred at the Saxsewell No. 8 Mine, Gauley Coal & Coke Company, Hominy Falls, West Virginia, on May 6, 1968 was held in Room 410 of the State Capitol, Charleston, West Virginia on May 24, 1968.
Twenty-five men were trapped by water in this mine, all but four were rescued, therefore it was not considered a disaster and the witnesses were not put under oath.
Mr. J. A. Philpott, Inspector-at-Large, New River & Winding Gulf Division, opened the hearing at 10 a. m. with the following comments:
Representing the United Mine Workers of America, Mr. C. J. Urbaniak
Representing the U. S. Bureau of Mines, Mr. W. R. Park
Representing Gauley Coal & Coke Company, Mr. T. A. Salvatti
Representing West Virginia Department of Mines, Mr. J. A. Philpott
Each of the above listed will be the spokesman for their group and they will direct the questions to the witness.
First we will call on the Foreman on the Section where the water broke through in the mine, Mr. John Moore.
Moore: We went in the mine at 7 o'clock, went to the section, serviced the miners, supplied up and No. 3 miner started cutting coal and then I went over where the electrician was working on No. 5 miner, the paddle shaft had broke, and we heard a man holler, of course that was Gene Warden, and it had washed him back out of the room when the water broke through, and someone hollered at the same time, oh my God it's water. We got Gene up there to the water and up in No. 2 room, and then there is Larry Lynch, he held to the pan line and let down it and he decided we could make it out of it so we tried to get out. We went down as far as, I believe Scarbrough was right past the head where the No. 3 miner had cut through, and it turned him over on the belt and he lost his cap and Larry Lynch he got in the power and we got him out of it and back up to the room and decided we couldn't make it and Scarbrough after while got back to us, I don't know how, but he was carrying his light in one hand and the battery in the other one and the water was raising pretty fast and I guess the next thing we done, we got two dinner buckets, three dinner buckets to be exact, one of them was filled with water and two of them was still dry. We got three jackets, we went on back and some of the men hung brattice across No. 2 mine room and then we put brattice across the last room and I don't know, some of them said Larry fell down on his knees and started praying and held his hands up and the water stopped, but I don't remember seeing it, of course we were doing other stuff in the beginning. It just sounded like, well I don't know, you can just imagine what it would sound like if you opened the gates on the Summersville Dam, it was making a terrific noise, of course after it filled up around the air course and blocked us off we couldn't hear any water running. We built us what I called a hut, we tripled the brattice cloth around it and fixed us a place to stay. We kept check on the water while it was raising or going down and of course it was on, I guess it was on Sunday morning that the water started dropping, I say Saturday night that it averaged an inch every four hours, then on Sunday morning it went down a good bit and then on Monday morning, we crawled about 400 feet trying to get out, of course the water was still at the roof and we couldn't get out and outside of that we went back and got in the hut and we just decided we would haven't to stay until they got to us and I guess that is just about all. They came in on Thursday morning about something to 3 o'clock when they got into us, 2 or 2:30, I don't know just what time they got there. Of course we didn't know we was cutting toward any old workings or anything, of course it had been damp on that section ever since it was started. That is about all I can think of.
Philpott: Our next witness will be Mr. Frank Davis, Mine Foreman and Superintendent.
Davis: On the morning of May 6th, Monday morning, I did not ride the mantrip inside the mines at 7 o'clock. I will state why. Clyde Perry, Federal Inspector was making my mines, he had been with me on Thursday and Friday. Friday we had made arrangements, he made the day shift Thursday and the day shift Friday, I had made arrangements with Mr. Perry, he was to come to the mines at 10 o'clock. So therefore, I was waiting for my two supply men to come up, we have two Kerseys, one Kersey driver took the mantrip to the mains and the other Kersey driver took the mantrip to second right in the South Mains and so therefore I had a few problems getting the mine supplies and also taking care of Mr. Perry, where he wanted to go, taking rock dust samples and he had planned to wait over a couple of hours on the evening shift. So at approximately, I say around 8:15 to 8:30 the supp[l]y boys came back out and I met them and I told them, I said I had a problem I would like to work out so come up to the mine office a minute and will talk about it. So we lined up our supplies, what we would do and how we would take care of Mr. Perry. Andy Walton, I made arrangements with him to go in with him as soon as he got his supplies loaded, and Ernest Fitzwater, Joe's brother, on the other Kersey, and I made arrangements with him to get one trailer load of supplies, leave the other trailer empty and bring Mr. Perry into the mines. I also made arrangements with Mr. Wood to meet Mr. Perry in case they wanted to do a thing or two before they reached me, because I was trying to take care of my duties, the other sections and then also visit the two right sections. I say the time the trailers was loaded was approximately 9 o'clock give or take a few minutes. I went in with the Kerseys and as we passed the South Main Head it was probably 9 o'clock, I noticed they were mining coal, coal was coming off the section. I went on to the mains and I visited two miner places up there and one of the boys told me they were having trouble getting his pans and chain lined up for the day so I helped him and I went and checked where the pans should have been. Approximately 10:30 the main belt stopped and I had to come out to the telephone and the beltman was setting there eating, not the regular beltman, but Junior Walton, beltman. When the belt stopped I waited a few minutes, I was talking to him, the belt didn't start so I called outside and wanted to know why the belt was down. Leon Jackson, the electrician, told me Jim Little has a timber in the hopper up in the bin, well that didn't cause me to much concern because frequently things would happen and you would have[n]'t to stop the main belt. So I went about checking the belts, number 2 belt in the Mains, which had just been installed, which was approximately 250 feet long. About 10 minutes till eleven I went back to the phone and called outside to Ernest Fitzwater and ask him if Mr. Perry had arrived yet, he was suppose to have been there at 10 and he said no he hadn't showed up yet, I said well you're going to have't to get on with hauling your supplies, so you come on in and then leave word that when he comes, will take care of him. I also called the battery station and told them to go on about the belt work, that we would take care of Mr. Perry when he got there. As soon as I finished with this I started to go to the section right at South Mains, but as you will make decisions I said well I'll make the other two miners first and see how there getting along. So I went back to make the two .miners again, ten minutes till eleven until twenty-five after eleven, I came back to the tail of the main belt, when I got to the tail of the main belt about twenty-five after eleven, I saw water on the belt. The first thing that popped into my mind, there must be a big thunder storm outside, so now that didn't satisfy my mind, I stood there, it must have been for a minute or two, somehow the water fascinated me on the belt and after a minute or two in my mind, I said I'll go check on it. So I grabbed my lunch pail and took off down the belt. When I got to the battery station, which is approximately 100 foot, 150 foot from the South Main Head, I heard Mr. Fitzwater hollering at me but I could see the South Main Belt Head from there, about the time I heard him hollering, I saw the water, it was rolling out from under the South Main Belt Head across the main belt. So I answered Frank and he that time he said I'm alright, I lost my upper plate, he was feeling around on the bottom for his upper plate and he found it, he got his light, he got his hat, so he came back out of the water, and I said there is only one think left for us to do and that is go to second right belt head, because thats the highest place. So we did. We went to second right belt head and I talked on the telephone while he wrung the water out of his clothes and then he talked on the telephone while I wrung my clothes out. After that point that is where we were. I say the time I left the tail of the main belt at twenty-five after eleven I looked at my watch again, after we went through all of this and situated ourselves the whole time element was 40 minutes. It was five after twelve. So that is how I remember it, how I recollect it to the best of my knowledge.